The New York Times also writes that a Herseth win is bad for Daschle:
Under this complex bit of political reasoning, the victory by Ms. Herseth has implications for Mr. Daschle because it would leave South Dakota — a state with a clear Republican majority of voters — represented by three Democrats in Congress. Republicans say that could contribute to a backlash against Mr. Daschle, who will be on the ballot this November, by Republican voters who think at least one of the three slots should be filled by a Republican. And with Ms. Herseth having just won, the voters might consider Mr. Daschle a more likely target. Tim Johnson, the other senator, was re-elected in 2002.
I generally agree with this concept, although not for the same reasons. I don’t think that South Dakotans care all that much about the partisan makeup of their Congressional delegation. What they do care about is the quality of their candidates. Stephanie Herseth was a smart, articulate, and positive campaigner. She ran a very good campaign and ran well to the center. She’s certainly more conservative than some Republicans like Arlen Specter.
The Diedrich/Herseth campaign was pretty much a campaign over who believed more in keeping the tax cuts permanent and who would be more dogmatic in never cutting Social Security (regardless of the fact that it needs to be cut else it won’t exist in a few decades). The race was tinged with prarie populism, and certainly neither candidate really was able to differentiate with the other.
My analysis is that Herseth won because she was the more articulate of the two, she had been campaigning before and had better name recognition, and Republicans felt safe voting for her.
Daschle won’t be so lucky.
Daschle has name recognition, but so does Thune. Daschle is not a good campaigner. He has won because Bill Janklow personally sabotaged Jim Abdnor after the brutal 1986 Republican primary. In 1992 and 1998 the Republicans ran candidates as virtual sacrificial lambs. Daschle has never really had to fight for his position, he’s always had a safe race back home.
On the contrary, John Thune is a nice guy with proven statewide campaign experience that can give Daschle a real run for his money. He’s currently running neck-and-neck with Daschle without spending a cent.
In many ways, all elections are local, and in a state with less than 800,000 residents it’s doubly so in South Dakota. Thune has plenty of ammunition to paint Daschle as a prickly partisan who has lost touch with South Dakota values compared to his All-American Boy image. Daschle has never had to run a campaign as tough as this. In 1986 he faced a weakened candidate who was weak to begin with. In 1992 and 1996 he faced candidates that were like lambs to the slaughter. This year he takes on someone who has a very strong chance of actually beating him.
For all the talk about how strong Daschle’s position supposedly is, this is the first competitive race he’s run in two decades. I have a feeling that his position is much more tenous than many analysts think.